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ND Football: Lion low

Bobby Griffin | Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny injured his right knee in the fourth quarter of the 2006 Orange Bowl – a bizarre positive for the Nittany Lions, but a definite negative for opposing offenses this season.

Posluszny’s team went on to beat Florida State in an epic three-overtime 26-23 victory despite his injury, and the senior linebacker from Aliquippa, Penn. was forced to sit out through spring practice even though his knee did not require surgery.

But with the injury, Posluszny was also likely forced to abandon any thought of entering the NFL draft after a season where he registered 116 tackles and three sacks. The NFL combine takes place during the off-season – the same time Posluszny was recovering from his injury.

The end result is simple.

Arguably the best linebacker in the country last season – as a junior, he earned both the Butkus award for the nation’s top linebacker and the Bednarik award for the nation’s top defensive player – returns for his senior year as the anchor of a corps that also welcomes back junior Dan Connor (76 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2005 after recording 85 tackles and four starts as a freshman).

“All the good ones that play that position have instincts that you can’t coach,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said in his press conference Tuesday. “You can talk about toughness, you can talk about athletic ability … but instincts are something that some people are out there and they got all the world of ability but they don’t have natural instincts.

“[Posluszny’s] a very natural and smart, instinctive player.”

Top-caliber linebackers are no mystery to the Notre Dame offense, and to Brady Quinn in particular, after last season’s Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State senior A.J. Hawk terrorized the Irish for a two-sack, defensive MVP performance in the 34-20 Buckeye victory.

But while the size and physicality the Irish saw from Hawk (6-foot-1, 247 pounds) in the Fiesta Bowl will be mirrored in the form of Posluszny (6-foot-2, 238 pounds) Saturday, the Nittany Lions’ overall defensive formation will be different.

“I think you could compare the guys, but then these are different teams and they run a totally different scheme than Ohio State,” Notre Dame running back Darius Walker said.

Walker – who had 22 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown Saturday at Georgia Tech – scored three touchdowns against the Ohio State defense last season. But Walker expects not only Posluszny, but also the entire Penn State linebacker unit, to present problems Saturday.

“Their starting linebackers are guys who are very physical,” Walker said. “They aren’t the type of guys who are going to shake you or juke you … they’re going to come with a full head of steam and basically take your head off.”

Penn State runs an atypical defense in that it can start in a 4-3 formation (four down linemen and three linebackers) and then quickly move into a 3-4 formation, which features three down linemen and four linebackers, before the snap.

Last week against Akron, this front seven combined to give up 33 yards rushing on 34 carries. Last season, the Nittany Lions were ranked in the top 20 in rushing defense, passing efficiency, scoring defense and total defense.

And Posluszny was that defense’s face.

“Obviously that’s a veteran player right there,” Notre Dame offensive tackle Ryan Harris said. “He’s the anchor of their defense. He’s performed at a high level for years now.

“He’s a guy who knows how to stay fired up. … He’s played in big games, so a player like that, you always respect him.”